In 2020, the demands and expectations of eCommerce quickly became crystal clear. Suddenly, it was not only ideal for customers, teams, and partners to be able to seamlessly work online, it was critically necessary. As businesses went fully remote, the strengths and limitations of eCommerce platforms were tested.
Legacy platforms, which were once quite straightforward, have become unwieldy, clunky, and most problematically, no longer meet business and customer needs.
Even so, many brands are reluctant to let go of their legacy platforms. Rationales include:
- This system has been highly customized for our business
- We’ve spent years investing in this platform
- The operational risks are too high for making a change
- It’s not perfect, but it works
Yet taking a strategic, iterative approach, you can start making the move towards a more modern, robust, API-based solution, which sets your business up for success, both now and in the future.
More businesses are moving toward microservices-based, API-first, cloud-native technologies. Modern architecture adds complexity and initially, only the most digitally mature organizations could take advantage of this decoupled tech. But vendors and service providers are now helping their customers bridge the gap by simplifying integration, implementation and administration of various functions provided by a larger number of different providers. - Emily Pfeiffer, senior analyst for Forrester.
Modern architecture is the culmination and refinement of digital technologies, resulting in true service-oriented structures to support enterprise development and innovation in an efficient manner.
As technology capabilities have evolved over time, they have surpassed what Oracle ATG, Hybris, and IBM Websphere can do. While many of those platforms have been upgraded, much of those upgrades are secondary. They are not truly baked into the structure of the platform, making them far less effective than the alternative.
API-Based Services Architecture
The new gold standard, API-based services architecture, is often referred to as a headless architecture.
This is because a “headless” platform separates the front-end (or the “head”) and back-end systems. Each system can function independently of one another, allowing the front-end content presentation layer to stand apart from the back-end content management system (CMS).
Consequently, headless architecture is far more flexible than its counterpart.
Leaving Legacy Behind
Most eCommerce companies only use about 30% of their legacy architecture.
Generally, the most-used sections include: catalog, shopping cart, checkout, and associated integrations. As you purchase more and more specialty services to make the “out-of-the-box” solution work for your company, it depreciates the platform.
Modern architecture stacks differently.
While your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), or your financials, inventory, warehouse, etc., form your back office layer, your shared services stack on top, such as your CRM, inventory, orders, pricing, etc. While each of these areas may have all been part of your legacy platform, API breaks them apart.
So rather than just de-coupling your front-end and back-end, API actually de-couples services into multiple components, allowing them to have autonomy, but also function together as a whole.
On top of that, your presentation layer sits, also de-coupled, which gives you immense flexibility and the ability to develop an omni-channel strategy.
Said another way: services architecture allows you to have services that are channel agnostic. From your call center to your eCommerce experiences, you can design each component precisely how you want, without impacting anything else. It also allows for a best-of-breed approach, so that you can pick-and-choose areas in which you want to invest and build up.
If you had to boil API down to one keyword, it would be flexibility. This flexibility is increasingly essential, and customers’ paths to purchasing are increasingly non-linear. eCommerce brands need to be able to adapt not only to mobile (analysts estimate that in 2021, nearly 54% of all eCommerce sales will happen on mobile devices), but also on voice, social, and other forms of commerce.
5 Steps to Modernize Your Architecture
We recommend a 5-step process for modernizing your architecture:
1. Assess Your Environment
You likely have a complicated environment to assess. Try to focus on these key elements:
- Understand your sites - take an inventory of what you have and how it’s connected.
- Identify current services - it’s possible you’ve already created services along the way, developing them as needed. If they’re working and you want to keep them, then you’re already ahead of the curve.
- Identify application areas that are taking on a heavy load and combining multiple services - over time, sometimes you may overload a functional area, and try to use it to accomplish too many things.
- Identify applications heavily serving business users - when you move from one platform to another, you will need a change management process to help employees and customers adapt.
- Identify customizations - especially those that are complex and significant.
2. Design Architecture
Make sure to design with the end in mind. You can then do a gap analysis and create a roadmap of what it will take to get there.
You should also identify what services make the most sense for your company, and align with your business objectives.
Consider where your business is heading in the future. Do you plan to expand internationally? Are you anticipating mergers and acquisitions? These are all factors that impact design.
Even more important than the design itself is the culture of your company. It’s critical to develop a company culture that will align with a newer, agile approach.
3. Select Technologies
Consider cloud-based solutions that have robust APIs, as they are far more agile than their counterparts.
Commerce solutions are not one-size-fits-all, and selecting the appropriate technologies and vendors is critical.
4. Develop an Implementation Strategy
Your implementation strategy will depend on your current environment.
If you have a multi-site environment, then implementing some new websites, or updating your low-revenue and low-risk sites first might be the ideal implementation strategy.
If you have a single-site environment, the best carve-outs will be services. Introduce certain services one at a time and see how each service goes.
You’ll also need to set internal expectations properly, acknowledging and preparing people that not all of the features on the old platform may carry over to the new one.
5. Execute Implementation Strategy
Take implementation slow and steady. It makes for lower risk mitigation, and it also doesn’t overwhelm your teams.
Bring your company culture along on the journey. If you’re not already working agile, now is the time to make the shift.
Moving to a modern architecture can be a daunting process, but with the right partner, it doesn’t have to be. Furthermore, embracing API is the way of the future. It will revolutionize your everyday practices, and set up your business to be far more adaptive as new technologies and user experiences develop.
Still not sure where to begin? Contact the team of experts at Object Edge today.